Ben Livingston of the Cannabis Defense Coalition expects "huff and puff" at tomorrow's legislative hearing on a sweeping bill that would legalize and regulate the production and distribution of medical marijuana. Will the bill require patients to register with the government? Will it outlaw pot shops, known as dispensaries, before making them legal in a couple years? These are some of the questions swirling around in the world of medical-marijuana activists.
It does, however, provide certain incentives to those who register, namely an added layer of protection from the police. To be sure, the bill would prevent cops from arresting any authorized medical-marijuana patients. Those in the registry, however, would be automatically cleared while others would have to produce a doctor's note to show they are legit.
The answer to the second question is more complicated. The bill calls for the Department of Health to establish rules for licensing dispensaries by July 2012. What happens in the meantime isn't clear. Current dispensaries, although judged illegal by most authorities, have argued that they are abiding by state laws that allow a "designated provider" to supply one person at a time. Dispensary owners just define "a time" as a 15-minute interval, after which they supply the next person. But the bill says that designated providers have to wait 15 days before supplying a new person.
Steve Sarich, a dispensary owner and enfant terrible of the medical-marijuana world, thus says that the bill "will immediately kill all dispensaries in this state," at least until 2012. And he plans to voice his vociferous objections at tomorrow's hearing.
But what's more remarkable is that, all questions aside, many activists seem to be coming out in favor of a bill that they once viewed with considerable skepticism. "We're really happy with the direction this is taking," says Philip Dawdy, spokesperson for the Washington Cannabis Association, a trade group of dispensary owners. Like others, Dawdy was initially wary of bureaucratic meddling.
"There's not a whole lot wrong with this bill," echoes Livingston. Livingston and Dawdy both explain that the bill's sponsor, Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), won them over by taking their input and incorporating it in draft after draft. This bill, Livingston says, is the senator's 10th. Crucially, in one of her later drafts, Kohl-Welles dropped a provision that required patients to consent to a search in order for them to be afforded protection from arrest.
The high-fives from the pot community don't mean, of course, that law enforcement will get behind the bill. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs did not return a call seeking comment today. But at least Kohl-Welles won't be walking into a hearing, as it initially seemed she might, facing utter rejection from the very people she says she's trying to help.